A 4+ mile hike to a waterfall in LA County?
You probably had the same reaction I did when I first heard that – utter disbelief. As someone born and raised in a small town outside of Fort Worth, Texas, I’ve always thought of giant cities like Los Angeles being full of nothing but huge ugly buildings, miles of streets and cement, cars, pollution and general urban nastiness. So when someone first told me about Escondido Falls shortly after I moved here, I kind of laughed it off and forgot about it.
But now that I’ve lived here for 9 years, I’ve learned to love this city for its surprises, among many other things, and I’ve found that there is actually a lot more natural beauty surrounding it than I could ever have imagine finding in flat, boring North Central Texas. Within an hour and a half drive from my apartment in West Hollywood are countless trails to hike, mountains to ski, lakes to fish in, and beaches to sunbathe on. When someone reminded me of the fabled waterfall hike in Malibu a few weeks ago, I scolded my 18-year-old self for blowing it off and added it to the top of my list of future adventures.
Escondido Canyon’s is in Malibu and the entrance can be found on Winding Way, right off PCH between Malibu Canyon Road and Kanan Dume Road. We arrived bright and early (for a Saturday anyways) around 8:30am and the small parking lot was already nearly full. It was a gorgeous day for early March – nearly 80 degrees already!
The first part of the trail starts by following Winding Way, which is actually a residential street with some of the most god-awful monstrosities built in Malibu (and one really beautiful brown house that seemed naturally built into the hillside – kudos to whoever designed and built it!). We wandered up the road past the gated driveways for a while before reaching the trail head, which is clearly marked by a sign and a nice brown trash can. At this time it was pretty clear on the trail and there were only a few people far behind us.
The first part of the trail is lovely and once we were out of sight of the mega-mansions and the road, it definitely feels far removed from the city. There were lovely trees and flowers and it alternated between shady and exposed trail. We reached a creek and crisscrossed it a few times, catching sight of several lizards that ran alongside trail next to us.
After a bit of a leisurely walk (I’m terrible with gauging distances – maybe a mile after the trail head?) we reached the smaller of the two waterfalls. It was very peaceful and we were the only ones there, so we took some time to check out the names etched on the large tree truck in front of the falls and prepared ourselves for the harder second half of the hike.
As much as the first half was peaceful, the second half was strenuous – it is much more vertical, with a lot of scrambling up rocks and sand, grabbing boulders for balance, and at one point, using a rope to cross a steep incline. We had to stop to catch our breath a couple of times and there was one group of girls that had turned around because the climb was a bit too much for them.
Once we climbed to the top of the last set of rocks, we could hear the big falls ahead. By this point there were several other people on the trail, both ahead of us and behind us. We scrambled over the last bit of trail to reach the beautiful larger falls, which were three times the height of the smaller.
I won’t lie, while the falls were beautiful, they would have more aptly been named the Escondido Trickle. Water was definitely flowing down, but by the time it reached the pool at the bottom, it sounded less like Niagara Falls and more like my shower when the knob is turned only half way. The last rain was two weeks ago, so maybe if we’d visited shortly after a good rainfall they would have been a bit more roaring. But even so, it was a really pretty spot and I loved the way the plants and moss had grown down with the trickle along the rocks.
Some of the guides I’d read said there was a way to climb up behind the falls (though it was dangerous), so we decided to make an attempt. There were a few guys that had made it up ahead of us, but with our backpacks it would have been quite difficult to maneuver up the boulders so we decided to turn around. My friend Chris had the idea to climb to the top and find the road that his GPS said was above it so that we could take that back down to PCH, but I don’t think we could have reached it even without our backpacks and proper climbing gear.
We stayed at the falls for about 20 minutes or so and in that time, a crowd of people had started to gather. It was a weird mix of people on the trail and at the falls – a combination of college students, families and foreigners. Definitely a different crowd that you’d find at, say, Runyan Canyon on a Saturday morning and decidedly less prissy!
We finally started to make our way back down, which is always a lot harder than going up! I scooted the steep parts down on my bum and I started to worry at one point that I’d have a hole in my pants back there if I didn’t lift myself up a bit more!
When we made it back down, there were loads more people arriving, so I highly recommend getting there early. The traffic going to Malibu on the way back was really backed up, so if anything getting an early start will help avoid sitting in it.
The drive along PCH is always gorgeous. The smell of the ocean and the sight of surfers at the lagoon makes me so happy! Even when I lived in Malibu when I was a student at Pepperdine, I never took it for granted.
On the way back we decided to stop at Reel Inn, an amazing seafood joint right on PCH that I always recommend to people visiting Malibu. The fish is always fresh and the plates are simple and delicious. I had broiled Mahi Mahi, which was perfect after nearly 3 hours of hiking! All in all, it was a great second adventure. Next week’s outing will be a bit more culturally based, so I’m glad I spent this week’s out and about in nature.
If you’re interested in doing the Escondido Falls hike, you can find a great guide and map here. I also recommend the book 101 Hikes In Southern California – I discovered a lot of great area hikes in it!